BRUNSWICK — A group of residents hope to launch a petition drive to force the town to keep tax-acquired property at 946 Mere Point Road, which a divided Town Council voted to sell in September.
“Many of us are baffled at the council’s decision to force a sale when a vast majority of Brunswick voices clearly favored keeping the property for the benefit of all Brunswick residents,” Colleen McKenna, one of the petitioners, said in a press release. “We want to have full transparency about the council’s recent decision and the process going forward before the council makes any further decisions regarding the property.”
A request for petition papers – sent to Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman, Town Manager John Eldridge, and Town Clerk Fran Smith – was submitted Monday afternoon, just hours before the council met and took action toward selling the property.
No mention of the petition was made during the council meeting.
The group intends to collect signatures in support of a three-part ordinance that would require the town to retain the parcel; provide public access to the parcel as a park and for shellfish harvesting, and “assess the feasibility, cost, and fundraising opportunities to provide other uses of the parcel, including public water access.”
Before receiving petitions to fill out for the town clerk’s office, the group must submit final language for the proposed ordinance.
The request was signed by residents Soxna Dice, of 3 Breckan Road; Anthony Yuodsnukis, of 276 Bunganuc Road; Scott Sehon, of 26 Thompson St.; Paul Nadell, of 4 Blue Heron Road, and Deborah Zorach, of 300 Maine St.
Yuodsnukis, the designated spokesman for the group, did not respond to a request for additional comment.
Town Clerk Fran Smith on Tuesday declined to discuss the specific request for petition papers, since it is under review by the town’s attorney, Stephen Langsdorf.
Langsdorf on Tuesday said his review will investigate the legality of a petition where “the intent is clearly to overrule an order of the council.”
While there is a process to nullify an ordinance, Langsdorf said the Town Charter does not outline a specific mechanism for the public to reverse a council order.
Consequently, what the petitioners hope and what Langsdorf must verify is that the petition satisfies a “police power ordinance,” a procedure which is defined by the Town Charter, and exists to promote ordinances that secure all manners of public welfare.
Langsdorf said this is the first time a resident has attempted to use the process in his three years as the town’s attorney.
Smith declined to comment on the petition specifically, but said during the referendum process, petitioners would have to collect signatures from 5 percent of the town’s registered voters, based on when the petition is issued.
Smith said as of Monday afternoon, when the request for papers was received, the town had about 17,700 registered voters, so the group would need 886 signatures. That number is likely to change in the coming weeks as more voters register for the Nov. 8 election.
After the group collects the required number of signatures, the clerk’s office will certify the petition to be reviewed by the council. After the council takes several mandated actions – including a public hearing – it will have the option to enact the ordinance or send it to referendum.
The group’s press release said they plan to collect signatures on Election Day, if they receive the petition papers in time.
Meanwhile, the council on Monday continued along the path it set in September, when after months of deliberation and public hearings, it voted 5-4 to sell the property.
Councilors authorized Town Manager Eldridge to initiate the first step of the sale: the clear the title on the property through a “quiet” title action.
Eldridge recommended the town clear the title in order maximize the value of the sale: Potential buyers would be guaranteed that no one else has any legal claim to the property.
At the request of the town, Associated Appraisers of Maine appraised the property on Aug. 24 at $257,000.
The only other potential ownership interest in the property would be held by the former owner, Richard Nudd, who would have an opportunity to prove in court that the town was defective in its process of acquiring the property.
Attorney Kristin Collins has already assured the council in an Aug. 31 memo that the town followed the proper legal procedure when it foreclosed on the property in 2011.
Eldridge said the process would be “relatively quick,” about two or three months, and that the legal fees would likely be $3,000-$5,000.
The council has not yet discussed a potential walk-in right of way for shellfish harvesters, a consideration of which was stipulated in an approved Sept. 19 motion to the sell the land.
The council also approved a second motion that evening, which mandates that “any funds from the sale proceeds go back to fund water access needs after back taxes are paid.”